What Was the Significance of the Southwest in the Outcome of the Civil War

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Confederate Arizona Territory

Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, and Ulysses S. Grant are names synonymous with the American Civil War. Henry Hopkins Sibley and James Carleton are less familiar or altogether unknown names yet their importance to the outcome of the Civil War cannot be overstated. In 1862, General Sibley of the Confederate States of America (CSA) Army marched his brigade from Texas, along the Rio Grande, and was destined for California. Colonel Carleton, commander of the Union's California Column, led his troops eastward from Fort Yuma with the mission of preventing the Sibley Brigade from reaching California. The leaders in Washington, D.C. and Richmond both understood the importance of possessing New Mexico and Arizona territories as they were the gateway to the ports of California. The Union blockade of the southern Atlantic ports and the rapidly declining financial resources of the CSA were two of the reasons Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered his troops to move west from Texas. If the CSA had been successful the outcome of the war, and certainly the duration, may have been quite different. The natural resources found in the region, Pacific ports of California, and openness to slavery were factors that had the ability to drastically change the outcome of the Civil War.

Attitudes in the Southwest

When Arizona split from New Mexico and declared itself a separate territory in 1860, the Confederacy saw this as an opportunity to gain support among Arizonans for the Southern cause. Prior to the outbreak of war, the federal government moved troops from forts in Arizona so as to fortify garrisons around Santa Fe. This left Arizona to essentially fend for itself against Native American raids. Lawlessness became rampant and Apache attacks more prevalent thus prompting a feeling of hatred toward the federal government among Arizonans. A Confederate commissioner had been surveying the region and reported back to his government that the Arizona population was excited "to join Texas and the South for a Confederacy."[1]This attitude was more pronounced in the southern portion of Arizona, specifically Tucson, as this region faced greater adversity from the Apaches. Additionally, the election of the nation's first Republican president did nothing to bolster confidence in the ability of the leaders of the U.S. to garrison and support Arizona.
Henry Hopkins Sibley

On March 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States. The following day, Texas ratified a provisional constitution of the Confederate States of America. Arizona, whose Anglo population was composed primarily of migrants from the southeastern region of the U.S., quickly mimicked the actions of Texas and on March 16, 1861 became the only territory to secede from the Union.[2]Two months hence, on May 13, 1863, Henry Hopkins Sibley, Major of the U.S. Army, resigned his commission and became a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. The former commander of Fort Union in New Mexico, travelled east and began to push the idea of a full-scale invasion of New Mexico and Arizona. He assured President Davis that New Mexico and Arizona, along with portions of California and Colorado contained strong secessionist factions. This was a fear of the Colorado governor, who wrote to Washington that he was concerned about a "strong and malignant secessionist element."[3]The animosity felt toward the U.S. government, lands fertile for cotton and other various crops, and the southern roots of the citizens made the Southwest territories a desirable region for the CSA. Establishing a Confederate government in this region not only meant more manpower but also provided access to the natural resources contained within the territory.

Finances and the Blockade

When the War of the Rebellion began, the South was at a great disadvantage financially and in terms of manpower. The North boasted a population of 22 million individuals, many of whom worked in one of the 110,000 factories that produced goods worth over $1 billion dollars annually. The agrarian South had just 18,000 factories that yielded $155 million in products during the same time period. The number of individuals in the North dwarfed that of the South, whose 1861 total population was 9 million; 3.5 million of that number constituted chattel slaves. Additionally, for every firearm possessed by the CSA, the Union owned 32.[4]Adding to the financial woes of the CSA, on April 19, 1861 President Lincoln ordered a blockade of all southern ports. The blockade not only halted the import of goods to the South, it also stopped the South's exportation of products, namely cotton to England.

Without the revenue generated by the exportation of cotton, the CSA was in dire economic straits. The newly established government "possessed no machinery for levying internal taxes," therefore began printing paper money and financed their war effort primarily with "a billion and a half paper dollars that depreciated from the moment they came into existence."[5] Inflation exacerbated exponentially and goods were in short supply. Salt, which prior to the war was purchased from the North and was the only means by which to cure meat, increased in price from $2 per bag before the onset of war to $60 per bag by the end of 1862.[6]The Confederate dollar was essentially worthless and without cotton revenue the economy was sure to crumble further. The Confederacy needed open ports in order to reestablish trade and eyed the mineral treasures of the Southwest to fund its war effort and feed its citizens.

The California Column

  1. Robert L. Kerby, The Confederate Invasion of New Mexico and Arizona, 1861-1862 (Tucson: Westernlore Press, 1981), 27-28.
  2. Kerby, 24, 28.
  3. Kerby, 45.
  4. Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty: An American History,vol.1, 2nd ed. (New York:W.W. Norton, 2009), 486.
  5. James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era(New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 439.
  6. McPherson, 440.